Friday Five: 5 Podcasts I’m Enjoying in 2020

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Hey y’all! Wanted to drop another short post here with some recommendations for podcasts I enjoyed through the month of December and am eager to keep enjoying into the new year! Here we go!

American Elections: Wicked Game — This podcast by Lindsey Graham (the creator behind the podcast Terms, not the congressman) begins with the question: Was there actually a “good ol’ days” before partisan rancor dominated American presidential politics? (In a word: no.) Each week, AE:WG explores the history of presidential elections, covering each election in order from 1789 to 2016 (leading right up to the week before the 2020 contest in November). I’m 4 or 5 episodes in, and I’m loving this. It’s well-produced, well-researched, and engaging. While I have to assume that there will be some perspective-shading when we get to the more modern elections (because there always is, no matter who’s writing it), I hope it’s this enjoyable all the way through. You can bet I’ll be eagerly listening to find out.

The Redeeming Productivity Show — Reagan Rose hosts this look at how our theology must necessarily guide our desire for productivity. In one of his earliest episodes, Rose details how even the most popular productivity and efficiency gurus today all have an ideological and even theological underpinning, and he encourages his listeners to consider that everything–even productivity–is shot through with theology. This podcast is quickly becoming a favorite. If you’re interested in the productivity/efficiency/creativity space like I am, put this one in your podcast feed.

The Twilight Zone Podcast — I’ve been a fan of The Twilight Zone since I was a kid, but it’s only been in the last year that I’ve gotten to enjoy Tom Elliott’s episode-by-episode recap and analysis. If you grew up watching TZ and want to revisit some favorites, I’d encourage you to check out Tom’s podcast and download those episodes. Not only is his soothing British accent a auditory pleasure, but he provides some thoughtful analysis and helpful behind-the-scenes research to enhance your appreciation of Rod Serling’s masterpiece. Tom’s just finished his analysis of Season 3, and is gearing up for the somewhat-controversial fourth season of TZ. I’m excited to hear what’s in store.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones Sermon Podcast — I was first exposed to Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones about 10 years ago, but it’s really been in the last year that I’ve come to appreciate The Doctor’s preaching. It’s sometimes described as “logic on fire,” and rightly so. While his delivery may seem stiff at times, especially at the beginnings of his sermons, his passion for the truth explodes in his preaching. What I most appreciate is that no matter when he preached the sermon (anytime from the 1950’s to the 70’s or later), he doesn’t use too many contemporary analogies or illustrations, and his messages thus become more timeless and applicable. I’m so thankful that the MLJ Trust has preserved this treasure-trove of audio teaching for later generations. It’s well worth your time to check it out.

Fiction Podcasts — Okay, this last one is a cheat, but I’ve just recently started listening to fiction podcasts again. This is essentially the resurrection of the old-time radio serials of the 1930s and ’40s, but in 21st-century form. There are some really fascinating audio dramas being produced and released for free (with commercials) in recent years. I’ve downloaded 3 or 4 podcasts to check out but not yet listened to enough to recommend any of them fully (like Welcome to Nightvale, Blood Ties, and Dust, a sci-fi anthology show). The podcast I mentioned earlier (Terms by Lindsay Graham on the Wondery Network) is an excellent bit of political intrigue that sadly has only seen one season produced–and was left on a cliffhanger! All that to say, if you haven’t yet checked out serialized story podcasts yet, you should look around for some. While there are sometimes content concerns for sensitive listeners, there’s a whole world of options out there for you to enjoy.

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Your turn!

What podcasts are you enjoying most, as you head into 2020? Recommend your favorites in the comments!

The4thDave Reviews: “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”

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(I couldn’t find any “official” social media promotion photos, Legendary Pictures, so please don’t sue me.)

“History shows again and again / How nature points out the folly of man…”

Godzilla: King of the Monsters stomped into theaters 2 weeks ago. (Goodness, how many reviews start with *that* cliche?) If you listen to the legacy media and “professional” movie critics, the film was a disappointment and deserving of reproach. To which I say:

…It’s a Godzilla movie. You want high art? The “Fathom Events” broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera is two screens over.

G:KOTM picks up 5 years after Legendary Pictures’ 2014 reboot of the franchise. The story begins with the Russell family, who were devastated when their son was killed during the events depicted in the previous film. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) is now working with the Monarch Corporation, tasked with locating and containing the “Titans” *cough*kaiju*cough* that are buried deep in the earth, all around the world. Her estranged husband, Mark (played by Coach Taylor–I mean, Kyle Chandler) is off studying the pack-behavior of wolves (conveniently!) and apparently staying in Tony Stark’s post-Snap cabin (?). Their tech-savvy teenaged daughter (Eleven from Stranger Things) is living with Emma but concerned about her.

But, blah blah blah, who cares because we FINALLY get to the monsters! And BOY HOWDY, do we get to the monsters.

AAAAAAAAAAND that’s where I’m going to stop and put up the spoiler warning. Because pretty much anything beyond this point is dipping into spoiler territory.

Unspoilery Review: Okay, I have to admit, I’m a mark for a good Godzilla movie–but I also know the difference between a good Godzilla movie (Godzilla: Final Wars or Shin Godzilla) and a bad one (the one from 1998 that we don’t speak of, EVER). That said: Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a really good Godzilla movie, y’all. The special effects are pretty good on the whole. The human cast is decent to good (some much more than others). The story is convoluted but why wouldn’t it be? And the studio has set itself for more monster-smashing action. (Not a spoiler, but Godzilla Vs. Kong is already in production, and I’m here for it.)

So yes, if you have any inclination to see a movie like this, go see it. You’ll have a good time. I’ll even say, go see it while it’s still in the theater. You need to experience it on the big screen.

Okay, spoilery observations commencing now…

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Onto the radioactive hail of bullets!!!

  • I love the Easter eggs and references to the Toho Pictures Gojira filmography–stuff like the “oxygen-destroying bomb” or the 4 generations of twins in Dr. Chen’s family. (Were her grandmother/great-aunt the actresses from the original Mothra movie? Because that would be money.)
  • The villain seemed right out of central casting (hailing from the Thanos school of Malthusian ecoterrorism). It’s interesting to me how many movies in the last 20+ years feature ecoterrorism–almost like it’s a reaction to the ecology movement of the nineties. Obviously, the idea of human ecological destruction is nothing new to the Godzilla franchise.
  • That said, I thought Vera Farmiga and Charles Dance (the human villain) gave the weakest performances of the main cast. Dance was a bit too mustache twirly without be fun to watch. Farmiga seemed to be sleep-walking through the role, to be honest. Her first turn, I could buy. The second turn and “redemption arc” was a much harder sell for me, though I figured out as soon as her daughter ran off that she would sacrifice herself to save her daughter.
  • The other actors were good. Chandler is always great, I don’t care what material you give him. Ken Watanabe was great as usual. Bradley Whitford’s comic relief character was fine; I would have dialed some of the humor back just a bit, because it was hit or miss there in the middle. Sally Hawkins and the rest of the main cast were serviceable but not notable. To the filmmaker’s credit, G:KOTM does a good job balancing the monster destruction with the human toll that such destruction is having. That’s something that was always missing from many of the old films (due to technological limitations, obviously). The 2014 film did it well, and I think this one did too.
  • One more critique: The visuals were pretty muddy throughout. Granted, I was on the second-row corner of an IMAX screening, so it wasn’t the greatest view, but others have confirmed this. Small quibble, but still.
  • The spiritual references throughout the film were intriguing, but having only seen it once, I couldn’t quite tell if there was a cohesive theme or if the director was just throwing in visual and dialogue references without more to it than that. Some interesting juxtapositions: the idea that dragons are considered divine in Eastern myth but that this one was feared; the shot of Ghidorah on the mountain with the church steeple/cross in the foreground (twice, I believe); the fact that the dragon was not of this world but fell to earth and then tried to rule before being thrown down; the dragon’s head being struck, crushed, and eventually removed. I don’t know, y’all; there seems to be a lot of Christian imagery that doesn’t seem accidental.
  • So, is Monarch an evil corporation, or just ridiculously naive? Are we talking Umbrella Corporation here, or just a really clumsy version of SHIELD?
  • I liked the contrasting themes of self-sacrifice for the greater good vs. faceless murder of millions for the greater good. (Would it be inappropriate to make a joke about communism here? Yeah? Okay, I’ll leave it alone.)
  • Hooray for leaving the ending open, and setting up the potential for many films. Let’s keep supporting them, y’all. I want to see more of these!
  • Does Godzilla live in Atlantis, y’all? That looked like Atlantis.
  • Something else to ponder regarding both the plot of the film and the actual making of it: Man’s natural tendency to worship, and our inherent desire to feel awe at something greater than ourselves. If I were writing a thinkpiece for C&PC or TGC, that would probably be my theme. “Searching for God in Godzilla.” “King of the Monsters, or King of Kings?” Something like that.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

The4thDave Reviews: “American Gospel: Christ Alone”

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What is the Gospel?

How is that word used and misused, especially in 21st-century America?

American Gospel: Christ Alone, a new documentary by filmmaker Brandon Kimber, seeks to answer those very important questions.

American Gospel sets out to accomplish 2 goals: to present a clear and unmistakable presentation of the Christian message we know as the Good News (or “gospel”); and to contrast that message with the most popular imitation of the Gospel in American culture, commonly know as the “Word of Faith” or “Prosperity” gospel.

Kimber takes on the biggest names in popular American religion, not by attacking these figures personally with sarcasm or snark, but by directly comparing what they teach to what is written in the Word of God and has been passed down as the historically orthodox, protestant Christian doctrine.

The film’s main premise is built on one of the 5 “Solas” of the Protestant Reformation: the idea that we are saved by Christ alone–not Christ plus works, not Christ plus others’ accomplishments, not Christ plus pedigree. Furthermore, when we turn from our sins and put our trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are coming to Christ alone for Christ alone–not just for what He can offer us in this life, as if He were a butler or genie.

The juxtaposition between orthodox Christian teaching and the claims of popular prosperity preachers and faith healers could not be more striking. Kimber takes the first 30-45 minutes to establish the truth claims of historic Christianity, and then sets them against the modern substitute in stark contrast. The history, doctrinal characteristics, and key figures of this theologically poisonous movement are then examined in detail.

In short: American Gospel: Christ Alone is a stunner of a documentary, rich with theological truth and unflinching in its critique of the most popular preachers and miracle healers today. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The cinematography, editing, and video production work is absolutely top-shelf. The sheer number and calibre of Christian pastors and theologians featured in the film is astounding.

Rather than get into more details, I’ll just say: You really need to watch this film. Watch it with your family, your friends, your church small group or Sunday School class.

The documentary is almost 2 1/2 hours long, so it could be broken up pretty easily into a few viewing sessions with time for discussion afterward. I can’t think of a more fruitful and edifying film that has been released in the last several years. Don’t miss out on this one!

You can rent/purchase digital copies of American Gospel on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Vimeo, and the Google Play store. Most of those rental options are around $4-5. You can also purchase the film on DVD/Blu-Ray at the distributor’s website.

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Have you seen American Gospel yet? Share your thoughts below!